The surprise announcement today that Conan O'Brien will take over the "Tonight" show in 2009 was no surprise to Conan O'Brien.
His Hollywood agents have been pressuring NBC executives for months, according to my sources. O'Brien's contract as host of "Late Night" is up in a year, and I'm told that "everyone" had talked to his reps.
That includes ABC, which is still looking for a new show to replace Ted Koppel's "Nightline" at 11:30 p.m. Last year ABC got a lot of flack when it was suggested they might offer David Letterman that spot. Even though the alphabet network backed off, it seems they are still willing to cancel "Nightline" under the right circumstances.
I'm told that HBO also approached O'Brien, and so did several other outlets as well.
"NBC had to go to Jay Leno and ask him about succession or risk losing Conan," my sources said.
I can't even imagine how much of a monetary increase Leno's reps made NBC agree to in order to go along with this plan. But over at CBS, there's no doubt now that top execs will angle toward easing David Letterman out in the same period. His likely successor: "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart.
In the meantime, what a coup for Conan. He was a writer on "Saturday Night Live" when I first met him, then he went to "The Simpsons." When Lorne Michaels first tapped him to replace Letterman, the response was scorn and ridicule. He barely made it through his first season. Now, 11 years later, "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" is an institution. It's good to know that nice guys finish first sometimes.